Complacent. Ineffective. Bungling. Inept.
The adjectives pile up as top editors, writers and free-press
advocates level their aim at the division of the Attorney General's
Office in Mexico responsible for prosecuting crimes against
Reporters and photographers keep getting killed. By one count, 84
have been slain since the year 2000. More than a dozen others have
disappeared. Threats against journalists are so frequent that large
swaths of the country simply are without media coverage of crime and
corruption. Yet top federal investigators can barely make a single
"The message from authorities is clear. In Mexico, [it] is all
right to kill or to attack journalists. It is all right because you
can, and there are no consequences," said Ignacio Rodriguez Reyna,
editor of the weekly magazine emeequis -- whose name is the way
Mexicans pronounce the letters "mx."
Such verbal darts are usually aimed broadly at the federal
government, but when personalized, the target is often a 35-year-
old lawyer, Laura Borbolla Moreno. Her title is special prosecutor
for crimes committed against freedom of expression.
Ms. Borbolla has been in her job for 15 months. Three previous
prosecutors have held iterations of the post since 2006.
Ms. Borbolla acknowledges that it has been "extremely
frustrating" that public opinion fails to grasp that Mexican law
endows her office with only "the most feeble" tools to prosecute
those who attack the Fourth Estate.
"Even without sufficient tools to investigate, we've been able to
carry out many investigations and clarify some crimes," Ms. Borbolla
Lawmakers created the Office of the Special Prosecutor for Crimes
against Journalists in 2006 but failed to resolve jurisdictional
problems that left the federal office often unable to assume control
of homicide cases from state prosecutors and courts, where murder
cases are normally investigated and tried.
Since watchdog groups say that authorities -- usually at the
municipal or state level -- are responsible for a significant number
of the attacks on journalists, it is little wonder that state courts
and prosecutors haven't been eager to cooperate with investigators
at the federal level.
"They don't want to share information," Ms. Borbolla said, "and
when they do, it comes doctored or manipulated or edited." She cited
a case from the state of Chihuahua involving the murder of Armando
Rodriguez, a crime-beat reporter in Ciudad Juarez, near the Texas-
New Mexico border, who was gunned down Nov. 13, 2008. Federal
investigators wanted a certified copy of a key witness's testimony.
It took state officials nine months to produce it.
Under mounting criticism both at home and abroad, Mexico's
Congress passed a constitutional amendment last year that empowers
federal authorities to take over prosecution of crimes involving
journalists. A majority of state legislatures approved the measure,
and it went into effect in June 2012.
But without a secondary enabling law, the "federalization" of
cases involving crimes against journalists does little good. Ms.
Borbolla said courts were returning 80 percent of her division's
cases to the state level, taking them out of her hands.
A legal remedy has just arrived. On April 11, senators approved a
proposed enabling law that allows federal prosecutors to take over a
case at their own discretion, particularly if there is suspicion
that a government official is involved in the crime or that state
prosecutors are not acting with due speed.
The lower house, the Chamber of Deputies, also approved the
enabling law, and it went into effect May 3, World Press Freedom
Day. Now, federal prosecutors can sweep aside any state prosecutor
whom they deem inept or corrupt, and the law orders federal judges
to rule on the cases.
Some critics say Ms. …